County's trails lead to fitness, great vistas

Areas for walking include Columbia, Patapsco State Park

March 19, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Go take a hike. Jim Rouse would want you to.

When Rouse designed Columbia in the 1960s, one of his priorities was that "people should be able to feel the spaces of nature as part of their everyday lives."

To that end, the community that Rouse designed includes more than 93 miles of walking paths. Some of these go around lakes, so residents can stretch their legs and enjoy scenery at the same time. Others lead to the community's 170 tot lots and play areas.

Columbia's pathways aren't the only walking options in Howard County. County parks and the Patapsco Valley State Park offer many walking trails remarkable for their scenery and the historic areas they traverse. The Howard County Conservancy, owned by a land trust, also combines history and beauty while providing another great place to walk and enjoy nature.

Walking is a great form of exercise and a wonderful mood-enhancer. Here are a few of the county's most interesting walking trails.

Centennial Lake

The 2.4-mile paved loop around Centennial Lake is popular, and deservedly so. It's fun to watch runners and walkers, many with baby stroller or dogs, as they enjoy the fresh air and views of the water.

The trail has a few steep sections, but the terrain is varied, so there's time to catch your breath before the next hill.

In summer, you can watch people in paddleboats and canoes enjoy the lake, and in all seasons the ducks look like they're having fun. You can pick up the trail in several locations. The county-owned Centennial Park has several entrances. The park's west entrance is at 4651 Centennial Lane in Ellicott City.

For more information, call 410-313-4700.

Columbia's lakes

The Columbia Association has created three lakes and placed paved paths around them. These include the 2-mile path around Lake Elkhorn in Columbia's Owen Brown Village, which includes exercise stations; the 1.46-mile loop around Wilde Lake; and the path along Lake Kittamaqundi, in the Columbia Town Center.

Avalon area

The Historic Walking Tour in the Avalon area at Patapsco Valley State Park is worth an afternoon.

This 2-mile path starts at the Orange Grove area and passes by all sorts of marvels, including the Orange Grove Swinging Bridge and Bloede's Dam.

Start at the Avalon Visitors Center and check out exhibits showcasing 300 years of Patapsco history. The Avalon area of the park is accessible off South Street from U.S. 1 south in Elkridge.

Call 410-737-0451 for more information.

Hollofield area

The Historic Walking Tour at the Hollofield area in Patapsco Valley State Park is 1 1/2 miles long, with an optional steep half-mile to the Union Dam on the Patapsco River. The walk features scenic views of the river valley.

Start by visiting the park headquarters at the Hollofield entrance for a trail map. The park entrance is 2 miles west of Interstate 695 on U.S. 40 west. Call 410-737-0451 for more information.

Old Ranger Trail

Also at the Hollofield entrance, the moderately difficult Old Ranger Trail forms a 1.5-mile loop through forest areas above the Patapsco River Gorge. Some of the forest is open, making it easy to spot migrating songbirds.

The trail also passes a radio transmission tower that was the site of a fire watchtower in the 1940s.

Conservancy

The Howard County Conservancy is Howard County's largest land trust, founded by a group of residents in 1990 to help preserve the natural environment, agricultural farmland and historic sites in Howard County.

The 232-acre property is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and features about seven miles of mowed or mulched trails, all forming loops with each other. They pass streams and go through forest, grassland and farmland. Keep your eyes open for deer, foxes, coyotes and skunk.

The conservancy is at 10520 Frederick Road, Woodstock, 410-465-8877.

McKeldin area

The McKeldin area of the Patapsco Valley State Park also has hiking trails, including the 4-mile Switchback Trail, which boasts a scenic view of the Liberty Dam Overlook, and the Tall Poplar Trail, which is 1.4 miles long and traverses moderately steep slopes, connecting riverside habitats to hardwood forests.

Savage Park

Savage Park, a 270-acre facility run by the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, has several interesting hiking trails.

The flat 1.5-mile Historic Mill Trail begins at the all-iron Bollman Truss Bridge -- which was built in 1869 and moved to Savage in 1887 -- and ends just past the stone dam abutments near the Middle and Little Patuxent rivers.

Savage Loop

The Savage Loop Trail has a 1-mile River Trail with some rocky, downhill terrain that runs alongside the Little Patuxent River.

Take the right-hand fork to connect with the 0.6-mile Lost Horse Trail, or turn left to connect with the half-mile Mill Race Trail, which follows the Middle Patuxent to Savage Mill. The park is at 8400 Fair St., Savage.

Call 410-313-4700 for more information.

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